Zittoun, Tania

Modalities of Generalization Through Single Case Studies

The value of case studies for theory building is still doubted in psychology. The paper argues for the importance of case studies and the possibility of generalizing from these for a specific sociocultural understanding of human development. The paper first clarifies the notion of abduction within case studies, drawing on pragmatists James and Peirce and expanding it with the work of Lewin, and argues that it is the core mechanism that allows generalization from case studies. The second section presents the possibility of generalizing from individual single case studies, for which not only the subjective perspective, but also the dynamics by which the social and cultural environment guide and enable the person’s development, have to be accounted for. The third section elaborates the question of institutional case studies, where the challenge is to account both for institutional dynamics, and for persons’ trajectories within; this is exemplified with an ongoing study on the process of obtaining citizenship in Switzerland. The paper briefly concludes by highlighting two possible implications of the paper, one concerning the process of theoretical reasoning, the other, the fact that sociocultural psychology could itself be seen as an institution in-the-making.